Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

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Summary.

Terms.

Written vs. Unwritten Laws.

A History of Legislation in Athens in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE.

The Process of Making Laws: the Nomothetae.

Legislation Initiated by the Assembly.

Other Ways of Initiating Legislation.

→ Scrutiny of Laws.

Criticism of Athenian Legislation.

Praise for Athenian Legislation.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

General Index

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Nomothesia (Legislation) 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003

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· Scrutiny of Laws ·

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 1).

Since laws, passed by the Nomothetae, were more important than decrees of the Council or Assembly (Andoc. 1.87), what happened when a decree contradicted a law? Or, what happened when someone proposed a law in a way that violated the laws governing legislation?

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Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

A graphe paranomon ( παρανόμων γραφή , or γραφὴ παρανόμων ), or “prosecution for having proposed an unlawful decree,” was the means by which the Athenians ensured the sovreignty of the laws; any such charge would be tried before the People’s Court (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 59.2; Dem. 24.33).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

Demosthenes’ speech against Timocrates focuses on just such a charge; the prosecution claims that Timocrates introduced a new law that contradicted an old law (Dem. 24.33). That doing so was illegal runs contrary to the assumption in American law that newer legislation takes precedence over older laws.

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

Demosthenes actually claims that Timocrates’ proposal was illegal for several reasons. First, it contradicted already existing laws (Dem. 24.33). Second, the proposal had not been published by the statues of the Eponymous Heroes (Dem. 24.18). Third, he did not allow the Council to consider the law before referring it to the Assembly (Dem. 24.26). Finally, he did not follow the lawful schedule, which would have meant proposing a new law at one meeting of the Assembly, taking no action at the next meeting, and at the third meeting voting on whether or not to convene the Nomothetae (Dem. 24.21); Timocrates, it is alleged, proposed his law at one meeting of the Assembly and moved that it be handed over to the Nomothetae on the very next day (Dem. 24.28).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 20).

Demosthenes’ speech against Leptines (Dem. 20) is another example of a graphe paranomon. Here, Demosthenes claims that Leptines arranged for the Nomothetae to pass a law without repealing any contrary laws (Dem. 20.89; Dem. 20.96), publishing the proposal beforehand, or allowing the Assembly to consider the matter before sending it to the Nomothetae (Dem. 20.93).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 18).

Demosthenes himself was once charged with improperly suggesting the emendation of a law governing the maintenance of warships (Dem. 18.105).

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